Streets of Your Town: The Journo Project
Streets of Your Town
Falling in love with writing letters again at the Woodford Folk Festival Lettering House
2
0:00
-16:08

Falling in love with writing letters again at the Woodford Folk Festival Lettering House

2

Well happiest of New Years to you all, my dedicated Streets of Your Towners!

With all the agitation and conflict in the world at the moment—I thought what we need on Streets of Your Town to start this year is whimsy. Something to make us smile and stir a sense of childlike awe in us again.

And so off I meandered in Mildred the Cantankerous Kombi to the Woodford Folk Festival. It’s on every year in the foothills of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland, helping hippies and hippies at heart to spread harmony and see in the New Year with three minutes of silent contemplation.

The festival attracts more than 130,000 people to the pop-up town of Woodfordia on the site of a former dairy farm, making it the largest gathering of artists and musicians in Australia.

Amidst this glorious muddy throng of people and throbbing music is a contemplative corner of Woodfordia called the Lettering House.

It’s where festival goers can go back to times gone by, and connect to their fellow Woodfordians the old fashioned, non-digital way—by writing a letter or typing it on an old fashioned typewriter.

A team of Woodfordian Posties search out the identify of each letter recipient, often based on the vaguest of addresses and identifies, who then get on their bikes to find them and deliver the letter by hand, or notify the recipient by text that they have a letter to pick up from the Lettering House.

So sit back and let’s ponder the magic of the Lettering House through the words of Postal Clerk Aaron Smith, a volunteer who comes up from Tasmania every year to help spread his bit of Lettering House joy and wonder through the festival.

“So this is the place where we’ve rejected emails and embraced slow communication,” Aaron says. “It’s like slow food, but a far better feeling.

“We’ve got four different ways that anyone at Woodfordia can mail a letter inside the festival. It’s completely free, paid for by just the magic of Woodfordia. So we have tonnes of unique stationary self-addressed envelopes from Woodfordia, and you can write a letter to really anyone in the festival if you know who they are, their name, and their number. And then we simply let them know they’ve got mail and they can come and collect it at any day in the festival, 9am to 9pm.”

When I was in the Lettering House on the last day of the six-day festival, it was absolutely packed. All the typewriters were being used, and tables were crowded with people jostling to use pens and paper and write their missives.

Aaron says that’s not unusual, and part of their job is actually teaching many people how to write and address a letter, as that skill is being lost with electronic communications like email.

“You’ve got people that come in here that have been writing letters from home to family that may not be in Australia every year and they know exactly what they want to do and they’re doing it from Woodfordia for that once a year,” he says.

"We’ve got people that have never written a letter before and have swapped them around and started writing the address at the back because that’s just not what they’re used to.

“One of the amazing things is we have some typewriters, and I tell you what, if they’re five or if they’re 42, you put someone in front of a typewriter and they always start with D-E-A-R, ‘Dear’, it’s an instant reaction we seem to have to that connection.”

When I met Aaron he had proudly just united one of the letters with Tim—which can be challenging because, as he says, “there are quite a few Tims. We like the unique names.”

The Lettering House postal service is free and has been a tradition at the festival for years. They also offer a pen pal exchange, where festival-goers can write letters of advice or welcome messages for others to take.

“We deliver directly to performers, volunteers, or stores where we know directly where they’re going to be. And there’s a letter exchange wall, which is kind of like pen pals of Woodfordia. It’s going off and it’s encouraging people to take that away with them. We’ve got some people that have responded probably six to eight times with a pen pal over the festival.

“You can write anything. So some of it’s just letters of advice. We’ve got a lot of ones just that say, ‘welcome to 2024’, and you can grab that if you really want to.

“We have Woodford Tinder going on at the moment on one of the forms there. There’s a few that definitely get quite a bit of fan mail.

“It’s amazing how certain baristas are definitely popular for fan mail. And I think the lifeguards have also been getting a lot of shout outs and when it’s 39 degrees, and there’s a lifeguard in the middle of the lake…well, we love delivering to that guy. Because it means we have to swim to him.

“We’ve got the Youth Wall there, which is a lot of bad dad jokes being passed around.

“But on that last day, we say don’t be afraid to take a letter with you. Letters are kind of like books. If they sit on a shelf, the magic is not always there. So we really want them to kind of spread out and grow those little letter-y wings and fly away.”

Aaron likes to think that while the Lettering House has it’s own bit of Woodfordia magic, hopefully people continue reconnecting with the fun of letter writing when they return home as well.

“I think it’s that pen and paper. People forget part of the magic of letters that I find is—they're not instant. It’s in the past, but it is also still the future, but it’s not the present—a letter. And that’s really valuable in a Woodford festival when you get every emotion in Woodford, we joke among some of the Lettering House Posties, if you haven’t cried and laughed out loud in a single shift, it wasn’t the post office.

“And I feel you can have that in a letter, which is very different to our modern, instant communication methods where we expect that person to have that instant emotion with us. Instead, we have this beautiful reflection and repeat, where I think today we forget to enjoy the past and try too much maybe the moment."

Talk to you soon my Wandering Journo tribe—I have another great podcast coming to your inboxes soon from Woodfordia—an incredibly innovative band called Yirinda that could be touring near you this year! Don’t miss them if they do!

Nance

2 Comments
Streets of Your Town: The Journo Project
Streets of Your Town
From the Wandering Journo at Stories that Matter Studios this is The Streets of Your Town. The podcast that takes you on an audio journey through theatre of the mind highlighting a different slice of Australian life each episode.